Seed Study: Polyphasic Sleep in Ten Steps

by BrienneYudkowsky 3 min read11th Jul 2013135 comments


(Update on this project now available here.)

A handful of Bay Area folks will be going polyphasic over the next month. By that, I mean we'll be adopting a sleep schedule that gets us 4 extra hours of productive work or play time per day, or two whole months per year. (Or a decade over 60 years.)

If you want to tell me about why it's a bad idea, feel free to post comments. I don't plan to use this space to sell you on polyphasic sleep. That might be another post, depending on how this goes.

I'm going to be collecting some very simple data through this here form. I invite you to join us!

This will be hard. It will hurt. You'll probably need a buddy to follow you around and keep you awake. If you don't have a lot of self-discipline, I don't recommend even trying.

Still with me? If you want in by the time you're done reading this, message me (or comment below) with your name so I know who you are. Here's the plan.

1.   Stop using caffeine right now. If you try to maintain a caffeine addition during this process, you will fail. I promise.

2.   Data collection began on July 10th. Start submitting daily reports at any point as soon as you want to participate, especially if you can begin in the next couple of days and then stick to our schedule. Fill out the above form once every 24hrs (whenever it's convenient) until August 10th.

3.   Pick a time to take a 20min nap each day from Monday, July 15th through Sunday, July 21st. You probably won't actually sleep during this time, but you can use it for mindfulness meditation if you stay awake. The goal is to practice napping. This is important.

4.   On Monday, July 22nd, begin fasting immediately after lunch.

5.   On the night of Monday, July 22nd, skip sleep. No naps, then an all-nighter. This is the official adaptation start date. The idea is to make you sleep deprived so your naps the next day are more likely to take.

6.   Eat breakfast on the morning of Tuesday, July 23rd. This should be the first time you've eaten anything since Monday lunch.

7.   Starting on the morning of Tuesday, July 23rd, take a 20min nap every 2hrs (for a total of 12 naps per day). Do not oversleep. Use an obnoxious alarm or whatever other means necessary. "Nap" counts as lying down trying to sleep; take your naps on a strict schedule regardless of how long you successfully sleep.

8.   Start to cut your naps down toward 6 a day as quickly as you can without it hurting too much. Beginning to dream during your naps is a good indicator that you're ready for this part.*

9.   Once you're down to one nap every 4 hours, you're on what's known as the Uberman schedule.

10.  Matt Fallshaw informs me that the next part is a little tricky.

10.1.   If you managed to reach the Uberman feeling good, you'll probably start getting really tired again shortly thereafter. This flavor of tired will be different from what you've suffered for the past week, and by that flavor you will know that you have hit SWS deprivation. If this is what happens to you, the new kind of sleepy is your cue to transition straight to the Everyman 3 schedule, which means a 3 hour block of core sleep plus three 20 minute naps spaced evenly throughout the day. And that's it!

10.2.   If you're unlucky, you'll not quite have reached Uberman in the space of a week--that is, you'll still be hanging on to some extra naps on July 30th. Then you'll be wolloped by a new bout of sleepiness. This flavor of tired will be different from the last. If it's is tolerable, drop straight to full Uberman and try to hold out for at least 24hrs, then convert to the Everyman 3. If the new flavor of tired is intolerable, convert to E3 as soon as the new tired hits, and expect the next week or so to be tougher on you than on the lucky ones.

Why are we doing this weird naptation adaptation plan thing instead of just going straight for the Everyman 3? Mostly because Matthew Fallshaw said to. If you know Matt, that's enough. In case you don't: It takes people about a month to adapt to the Everyman 3, but only about a week to adapt to the Uberman. The Uberman forces your body to learn to get its REM and SWS in those tiny 20 minute naps. If you're still giving it core sleep time, your body won't take the fullest possible advantage of naps right away.

If you think you can keep the Uberman schedule indefinitely, go for it! But keep me informed about it so I know what's up with my data.

*A clarification from Matt: "Drop naps as quickly as you can while remaining functional. The most important part of this period is that you don't sleep for longer than 20 minutes at a time, but the earlier you can get to a pure Uberman schedule the better. Take naps as you need them (with at least 40 minutes awake and moving around between naps) while pushing towards Uberman. The longer you can maintain pure Uberman before introducing a longer core sleep block the further along you'll be to a full adaptation."

ETA: I chose the psychomotor vigilance task (which you'll find if you check out the form I linked to) because the specific thing I'm trying to do here is distinguish polyphasic from chronic partial sleep restriction. If people on polyphasic return to their monophasic PVT baseline after a couple of weeks, especially if they stay there for a long time, that's clear evidence that the polyphasers are not experiencing the same physiological phenomenon as people suffering from chronic partial sleep restriction, which is what I'm actually concerned about. One of the only really well established facts in the literature on partial sleep restriction is that people who are deprived of a couple of hours of sleep a night get worse at the PVT as a function of time. If it's the case that the polyphasers will end up with memory problems, attention problems, and related issues, the simplest explanation is that they're suffering from a kind of chronic partial sleep restriction. I hope that clears some things up.